Fort Arsuf, Israel
August 7, 2024
Captain Francois Sinnet admired the neat rows of soldiers arrayed in front of him on the hot tarmac of the assembly yard. The assembly had gone off without a hitch and his troops had been the first to form up in parade attention under the unforgiving Israeli sun. Their drill fatigues shown bright against the blacks and grays of the tarmac, sage green and sand colored digital camouflage, with green-gray combat boots and forest green berets clearly establishing and distinguishing his unit from the others assembling alongside for the official visit. Francois was acutely aware that his men and women also knew that they were the first in formation, a fact that would earn them some envy when it got down to the inspection. The Legion had a proud and storied history and his force was no exception to that rule,
To his right, Francois could see some of the smaller units forming up more quickly than their larger counterparts. His force of about one hundred and fifty soldiers was about the median of the force sizes. The British SAS team stood at his immediate right, a single line of only five men, plus their officer, Sergeant James Raleigh, facing them as Francois faces his own. They looked a little smug in their all black and gray fatigues, which were fitting since they weren’t officially assigned here. A friendly rivalry existed between them and the Frenchmen, but it was more playful than perhaps that of their grandfathers had been. While both groups were considered Special Operations Forces, their major tasks and objectives tended to be very different; while the Brits went out on “Reconnaissance Missions”, the Legionnaires helped augment Ranger operations, or provided security for the constant caravans of incoming and outgoing munitions, prisoners and foreign aid for civilians.
Next to the SAS squad was SEAL Team Seven, the U.S. team officially assigned to the base for training purposes, though everyone knew their actual goals and assignments were a little more direct in nature. As the Americans are fond of saying, thought Francois, if you are running in the Kentucky Derby, you never leave your prize stallion in the stable. The SEAL team leader was a quietly and reserved man, rarely given to so much as a smile, but like many of the men and women who served here, Francois respected him. They’d seen him fight during the sporadic patrols that his SEALs actively participated in and everyone knew he was a soldier who understood not only duty and honor, but courage as well. Francois flashed a smile and a small thumbs up at both men and received a smile from Raleigh and a nod from Rogers. He lost his smile as he scanned the men casually standing next to and a little behind the Seals. Those were the contractors, men who had been recruited by a military corporation to serve as truck drivers and gate security for the base to free up the soldiers for combat and humanitarian operations. Mercenaries, hired guns who fight for a paycheck and not for a cause other than their own, Francois thought with disgust. No honor, no discipline and no pride. Washouts, dropouts and criminals the lot of them, he nearly spat to himself as he saw the small smirk from their leader, Jeffrey Smalls. His name fit him well, a small, rat faced man about four inches over five feet, but built like a tank, broad shouldered with hands like spades and a wit as sharp as the bowie knife he had strapped to his thigh at all times, even during mess. A dangerous man that one, thought Francois as he forced himself to turn his attention to the other side of the marshaling yard.
The object of his attention was the group of slowly assembling soldiers who made up the PAC battalion assigned to duty here. The PAC, Pan Arab Coalition, was a collective of six Islamic nations: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan. Unlike previous alliances, which had been traditionally based on economic ties and resource sharing, this alliance had been formed to promote stability in the region, especially because the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts had always affected these countries significantly. So, following their own guiding principles, they had sent a military expeditionary force to northern Israel to help with peacekeeping operations. The force was made up of hand picked units from the militaries of each of the member nations and was considered by many to be the finest Arab fighting force in the world, though Francois had always thought that that was somewhat like being the best of the worst, a comforting thought when you considered that these men might have to hold your life in their hands one day. They were forming up rather more slowly than the rest of the units, in large part due to that multi-national structure. Running a coalition is hard enough, let alone running one within another, thought Francois with a mix of amusement and sympathy. That sympathy was for their commander, Colonel Ibrahim Singh, of the Democratic Republic of Egypt. Singh was a heavy set man in his mid fifties, balding and with what the Americans called a ‘spare tire’ around his mid section, but clearly still capably of being deadly in combat. He had been chosen partly because of his experience and partly because he was literally the only non-Muslim, atheist in fact, in any of the Islamic nations’ armies. Well, agnostic as he says, thought Francois wryly. Singh had been trained in the West and served most of his career in liaison with Western militaries; it was for this reason that sending him to Israel had proved doubly useful to the powers-that-be in Egypt. His non-Muslim attitudes made him politically awkward at home, but politically priceless when it came to foreign command settings. Francois caught Singh’s eye and gave him a curt nod that all was well on their side of the tarmac. Singh returned a mirror image of Francois’, which let him know that all was in hand despite the apparent chaos of the muster.
Francois shifted his focus to Singh’s left, to the final and largest contingent of Fort Arsuf’s military occupants. Colonel Wesley Jones, officially co-commandant of the fort with Singh, though largely regarded as the actual leader including by Singh, and his battalion of eight hundred United States Army Rangers, awaited the guests who were now leaving their new arrived AC130 aircraft. Wesley was by far the best tactician at the base, aside from his obvious wealth of experience and battlefield knowledge. Francois had served with him on and off for the last few years, first in South Africa during that brief but bloody civil war, and then later in counter terrorism in Libya, before finally being assigned to Arsuf.
Wesley was standing at attention, awaiting the newly arrived guests. He looked completely at ease, but Francois knew differently. From what he had gathered in the conferences about the upcoming tour, the man arriving had been Wesley’s mentor for the better part of twenty years, a man he deeply respected and admired. Jack Harrison was also the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, and perhaps one of the most powerful men on the planet. Francois had briefly met Harrison, once, on a previous tour of the base he was stationed at in Somalia two years prior. Most of what he knew of the man came from the same reports everyone else had seen on the news, reports about a man who had helped bring the united government of Israel and Palestine into being, the man who had achieved peace where no one else had. That, in and of itself, impressed Francois and many others involved in the conflicts in the area, but that respect was dwarfed by the respect Wesley had for his teacher. Wesley seemed to sense Francois’ gaze, a trait Francois had been thankful for on more than one occasion. He gave Wesley a curt nod, as if to say, Everything is in order. Wesley simply turned back to regarding the now deplaning guests. Francois knew that Wesley knew everything was in order, but a commanding officer was judged as much by the appearance his troops as by his personal appearance.
Francois took the moment to refocus his attention on his own troops. He regarded his two hundred-strong command with the supreme confidence of a man who had shed blood alongside each and every one of his soldiers. Some of that confidence also came from the fact that the command and troop structure was completely unique to any military in the entire world. Nearly forty five percent of his soldiers were women, a ratio unheard of in any other unit of any other military establishment, at least any he was aware of. His had been the first unit to incorporate women into not just combat roles, but Special Forces as well. Countries where women tended to be overlooked had become the major battlefields of the last twenty years and still few commanders had had the foresight to realize how useful female troops could be. Funny how surprised people are when the woman who was buying food in the market one minute has razor wire around your throat the next, thought Francois with an inward smile. Then again, the Legion was already a unit made up of foreign citizens, so it was easier to include women from the start of the process. You are all pieces of shit as far as I’m concerned, had been the guiding principle of General Cevac, Francois’ commanding officer and the man who had been in his own position twenty years ago. No one in the Legion had been born French and it was likely many of them would die never being French, but Francois took pride in the cohesiveness of his troops, one so sound and solid that in parades to the Arch de Triumph in Paris, while other units split around the monument, the Legion stayed together on only one side. Francoise took comfort in his troops ability to do their job and settled in to wait for the tour to begin.
On the other side of the tarmac, Wesley began his short walk to meet Secretary Harrison halfway between where he had been standing and the now dormant aircraft. While most of the staff had followed Harrison off the plane and out towards Wesley, several military and security personnel were unloading various pallets of materials with forklifts and driving them over to the armory.
“Welcome to Fort Arsuf, Mr. Secretary,” Wesley said, saluting and coming to attention several feet from Harrison.
“At ease Colonel, it’s too hot out here for all that,” Harrison said, returning the salute and waiving the officer to be at ease.
“Looks like the materials are being offloaded and should be finished soon sir,” Wesley said as he allowed the Secretary to walk beside him down the tarmac. Harrison seemed to notice Wesley’s questioning assessment of the materials.
“It’s all there, Colonel, everything you put on the request form. I even threw in another thirty Titan armor setups, figured that seemed appropriate given the mission and the fact that it was your number one request,” Harrison reassured him.
“Thank you, sir. I’m sure the men in the armory and motor pool will be thrilled to have the extra equipment,” Wesley responded, sincerely. Mobile armor required significant upkeep and the titanium alloy plates used on his APCs had to be flown in from the States. “If you’re ready Mr. Secretary, I think the troops are fully assembled for an inspection.”
“Yes, yes, by all means, lead on,” said Harrison. But before he could be guided towards the assembly soldiers, a stiff looking man in a suit pulled Harrison aside and had a terse, quite word with him. The man was flanked by two tough looking men in cargo pants and tight black shirts with kevlar vests over them, agents from Langley ‘officially’ detailed as a security detail, but the CIA never just sent people along for the ride. Wesley was intrigued but kept his attention off their conversation. He didn’t know who this man was and his talk with Tom wasn’t Wesley’s business. After a quick moment, the Secretary waved the man off with a nod of his head, obviously giving the go ahead for whatever the other had asked. “Sorry about that Wes, the plane’s got to get back to Ramstein by midnight and they wanted to get wheels up now. Everything for your people should be off.”
“Roger that sir, I’ll have the tower ready,” Wesley replied, motioning to one of his aides, who radioed the control tower. He was also expecting more aircraft through his field, a pair of F-22 Raptors heading from Germany to Yemen to help with combat missions in the troubled southern Arabian Peninsula region. The sooner the cargo plane left his runway, the better.”Now if you’d like to follow me sir, I’d like to introduce you to the some of the finest soldiers in the theatre.”
The long line of soldiers stretched all the way from the runway to the first administrative building, nearly the length of a foot ball field. Wesley introduced Harrison to each of the commanding officers as they strolled past the ranks, stopping to speak with several individual soldiers from each battalion. Wesley was vaguely aware of the plane taking off as they spoke with Francois and his Legion soldiers.They had just reached the SAS team and were making introductions when it happened.
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